Here comes one of those ‘back in the good ole day’ stories…that you might just relate to. If you are a bird hunter and were around in the late 70’s and 80’s you know that there was a time when a guy could go out…and with some hard work, blood, sweat and a few tears…harvest a ruffed grouse or two…heck, I can remember having days with lots of flushed and a few pointed birds. Those days my friends seem to be long gone. Maybe you know where there is still a pocket or two of grouse habitat but for the most part it seems like grouse have truly become the ‘ghost’ bird of Indiana.
Habitat…it seems, is at the heart of the issue. Grouse like a very certain type of habitat. Simply put…the best habitat is new growth and very thick. Clear cutting is a term used in the logging industry and depending on whom you are…it is either a positive or a negative term and might depend a lot on where the pendulum seems to be at this very moment. Clear cutting involves the practice of cutting down each and every tree…nothing is left. As the growth returns it comes back in very thick; some of my best days hunting grouse have been measured both by birds flushed and percentage of blood lost while hunting. When the industry or state moved away from clear cutting…the much needed habitat for grouse simply disappeared.
You can thank the grouse however…each year when you harvest a wild turkey; our state had a ‘trade agreement’ with the state of Missouri that involved trapping grouse here in Indiana and shipping them to Missouri and in return we got some of their abundant wild turkeys. I can’t tell you if their half of the trade worked out but you don’t have to be an outdoorsman to know that the Missouri part of the trade worked out well for us Hoosiers.
I got a call back about a month ago from a friend of mine…Tom Hefner is not only an avid bird hunter but a true steward of the land. I have hunted with Tom up north for pheasants on a few occasions as he owns a couple of nice parcels that are smack dab in the middle of prime pheasant habitat. Tom and I had talked previously about trying a grouse hunt on an 800 acre parcel of woods he owns here in Monroe County…and Tom was finally catching up with me on this hunt. We agreed to meet at the little store in Harrodsburg at 12:30pm on Sunday, November 10th…and in about 15 minutes pulled off on a little side road and into a logging lane. Tom pulled out a very detailed map of his property and I have to say I was more than impressed with both his knowledge of the acreage and his plan for improving the quality of habitat for grouse.
I joked that if you build it they will come…but that is exactly Tom’s plan. He has several plots of clear cutting, ranging anywhere from 5 acres to 44 acres…with plans to clear cut several more acres over the next few years. As I said, Tom is a true steward of the land and there is no question about his love and devotion to this parcel. I let Macy and Royale out of my dog trailer and we pushed off down the logging road towards a large clear cutting. If you have ever grouse hunted then you already know that this is as tough a hunting as there is…the 2 pups along with myself jumped into the heart of the clear cut and started working our way west with Tom positioned along the logging trail…as there has to be someone who is open and available to shoot. You know you are in good grouse country when you are nicked up, cut up and bleeding from several points at one time…and within a half hour I was hot, sweaty and bloody…ah, but what a good time.
I’d love to jump right in and tell you that we shot several grouse…heck, I’d love to tell you that we flushed several grouse; it just didn’t happen. On the day we flushed one grouse (who wildly exploded away from me and the dogs)…but we did have a very good day on woodcock as we flushed 9 in total and had several nice points on this little migratory bird. The last point of the day came as both Macy and Royale stacked up in a thicket…as I neared the pair; a timber doodle (woodcock) fluttered skyward and fell prey to the only 28 gauge shell I would fire on the day. It was the topic of conversation the next morning as I shared the hunt, some photos… along with the habits of this migratory bird with my class at school. They all now know a little more about pointing dogs, birds, habitat and what it takes to be a good steward of our land.
We returned to our vehicles three hours later and I have to admit that my glass of cool tea was a real treat. It had been a grand afternoon exploring some great habitat here in our own backyard. Me and the dogs meandered our way through the country and in under an hour were back home and while I didn’t limit out or even have the chance to fire my shotgun more than once…it was a truly spectacular day afield while Enjoying the Great Outdoors.